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Will US sniffer dogs be a critical step in preventing the spread of ASF?

Can the Beagle Brigade halt the illegal import of pork from ASF affected regions?

25 January 2019, at 12:00am

African swine fever is a deadly virus which kills up to 100 percent of the pigs that become infected. In August 2018, officials became concerned as the disease rapidly swept through China. While it is not contagious to humans, even when consuming the meat of an infected pig, health officials from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) held an emergency meeting in Bangkok to consult with regional animal health experts. The conclusion of the meeting saw the release of a statement by the FAO which announced that, due to its rapid onset and spread (as far as 1,000 km apart), African swine fever presents a risk worldwide.

The United States government response was to have the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) address the problem via the Beagle Brigade. This lively named department consists of trained sniffer dogs that are trained to sniff out pork in passenger luggage at airports and other border crossings. Importing pork always carries risks, and the average traveller is not usually aware of the danger each country is put in when meat is hidden in luggage for illegal import.

The beagles can detect a variety of imported and attempted export of agricultural products. The danger of importing and exporting any meat, plants, and other products is the risk of spread of foreign disease, and pests and insects. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine Program assist with the Department of Homeland Security’s US Customs and Border Protection by ‘bringing in the dogs’ on a regular basis to detect undeclared and potentially dangerous pork and other agricultural products. How common is the pork smuggling? One of the Beagle Brigade, Hardy, found a roasted pig’s head in a passenger bag in an Atlanta, Georgia airport in October 2018.

“The quick work of a beagle and the [Customs and Border Protection] staff prevented a potential animal health issue and further highlighted the need to be vigilant in safeguarding the US against foreign animal diseases,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

“Because there’s no treatment or vaccine available for this disease, we must work together to prevent it from entering the United States in order to best protect our farmers, our consumers and our natural resources.”

Additional measures to guard against African swine fever include heightened vigilance towards passengers who arrive at border crossings from affected countries. It is hoped that these measures can be implemented by each country’s border agents worldwide in order to prevent future agricultural diseases.

“International travellers also need to be aware of this disease, as they could unknowingly carry the virus into the US. Anyone who has contact with pigs or swine farms on travel must ensure they carefully clean and disinfect their shoes, wash their clothes and shower prior to having contact with pigs here in the US,” the USDA reiterated in their statement.